Burners with Disabilities: Radical Inclusion

Black Rock Desert, Nevada - late August. The unforgiving desert heat weighs down on the strange, make-shift metropolis of Black Rock City. Snug in his wheelchair, Victor Pineda explores one of the world’s harshest environments. Victor, a quadriplegic adventurer, is on a mission. For years, this humanitarian, scholar and rights pioneer has traveled the world, from Yemen to Thailand, searching for a place where everyone is included. A place of radical inclusion.

During his week at Burning Man, Victor lives in a yurt and investigates the Mobility Camp. A place built by and for disabled dreamers like him. A haven of uncompromised self-expression and self-reliance. Emboldened by the desert air and the rebellious magic of the Burning Man spirit, Victor’s fellow burners with disabilities begin to open up. Through candid, raw conversations, they share their wildest dreams, deepest fears and untold secrets. Jillian talks about body image and the unique challenge she faces as Fashion Week’s first model to walk the runway in a wheelchair. Greg roams through the open playa on a three-wheeled hand cycle and reflects on the life-changing connections he’s made at Burning Man. Emily breaks down as she recalls how a stranger amputated her leg in a car accident, but rejoices when she talks about the loving friendship she has since developed with the man.

As the days go by, Victor’s own battle with the desert’s harsh conditions intensifies. In pushing the limits of his seemingly frail body, Victor is overwhelmed by the most profound lesson Burning Man has to offer: shift your perspective, and all boundaries melt away. A once unsated, idealistic advocate, Victor departs a changed man, having discovered that Burning Man’s Mobility Camp may very well be the ultimate place of radical inclusion.

  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 21 minutes
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Vimeo
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: Internet
Director Biography

Dr. Victor Pineda, 38, social activist, scholar, filmmaker, city planner, and quadriplegic, travels to Burning Man in search of the ultimate radical inclusion experience.

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Director Statement

Making this film is one of the most difficult tasks I have ever undertaken, but that is the very reason why it has been so rewarding.

I stopped walking at the age of five. But I’ve never stopped doing, traveling, exploring. I’m a pioneer and a poet, an astronaut on wheels, a rebel with a cause. I’m always hungry for more. More experiences. More meaning. More life! And yet life, at every turn, becomes an obstacle, whether a physical barrier or a close-minded individual. The spirit of Burning Man intimately speaks to me because it puts forth the same set of values that I share. Burning Man fits me like a glove, and I was called to live it, taste it and make a film about it.

But it was no easy task. I can’t get around without a wheelchair. I need a battery-operated breathing machine at all times. I depend on a caretaker to bathe, dress and eat. My everyday life in Berkeley, CA requires a specific, detailed minute-to-minute routine, so I can only let you imagine what kind of preparation, discipline and sacrifices a week in the Nevada desert requires! But that’s also another reason why I feel such a strong attraction and connection to Burning Man. When people first meet me, they wonder how I do it, how I can function. Burning Man only multiplies my concerns and vulnerabilities. The desert offers no housing. No shade. No water. How is this trip even possible? Through this film, I want to show the human side of this postmodern pilgrimage, and illustrate how the stories of burners with disabilities are universal stories of regular people coping and drawing strength from everyday triumphs and tragedies.

I explore the contrast between the sublime human environment of inclusion and the extreme desert environment that threatens my life. What irony to finally have found the ultimate radical inclusion in an ephemeral place and discovering radical inclusion is to a great extent shaped by our values and how we see the world.

Burners with Disabilities: Radical Inclusion is an exploration of this impossible possibility. The film examines the nature of what we are perceived to be fragile bodies in one of the most extreme environments. The documentary focuses on six burners with disabilities who find themselves searching for more than what existence has put in front of them. From conversation to conversation, we come to discover a world of untapped potential and how the Burning Man experience helps unleash those dormant capabilities.

For people with significant disabilities like me, extreme camping is simultaneously excruciatingly challenging and liberating. I hope that this film illustrates how rich and meaningful experiences can be born through struggle. Ultimately, Burners with Disabilities aspires to shed light on the unique dynamic of radical self-expression, radical self-reliance and radical inclusion, and how these three principles work together to unlock hidden talents and abilities.